Postmodern IT

We are entering the postmodern era of information technology.

In the arts and architecture, postmodernism was a late 20th century movement that was a direct response to the preceding modernist era.

The modernist architects believed in the triumph of function over form; in a pure machine aesthetic; and in grand symmetry and uniformity. In the modernist scheme, citizens would reside in grand planned cities of radiating boulevards interspersed with mass-produced glass, steel, and concrete towers.

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Modernism: The Seagram Building, New York City, 1958, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe [^1]

Postmodernism rejected the failed utopianism of the modernist movement. Postmodern architecture replaced the uniformity of the modernist era with an explicit heterogeneity. The postmodern era embraced eclecticism, blending practical functional elements with familiar classical themes.

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Postmodernism: Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London by Robert Venturi (1991)[^2]

In many ways, contemporary IT is following a similar course. The days of grand centralized IT systems that implement the utopian ideals of CIOs, “enterprise architects," and megavendors are waning.

Replacing this failed utopianism is a more practical acceptance of heterogeneity. The leaders of postmodern IT are comfortable blending best-in-class SaaS applications with modern on-premise software, and cloud hosted infrastructure with private data centers. Familiar polyglot technology building blocks (Linux, the JVM, Python) are being recombined and blended with emerging shared services infrastructure platforms like Hadoop, OpenStack, and Docker.

In the postmodern era, business leaders are empowered to make their own decisions about the products, technologies and delivery models that will provide the most impact to their bottom line, rather than being hamstrung by the constraints of a centrally planned IT economy.

The promise is great — but the fluidity of postmodern IT puts new demands on IT operators. How will sysadmins manage the complexities of these composite software stacks? Traditional IT operations tools from the Tivoli, BMC and Splunk generation aren’t going to cut it.

That’s why I'm excited to be involved with innovators like Rocana, who bring a fresh approach to building practical IT management tools that are native to the postmodern era. Rocana is developing domain specific machine learning, analytics and purpose-built visualizations that quickly guide IT operators to the root causes of complex issues that span across modern data centers and clouds. Rocana’s software operates across the full stack of machine event data, from physical infrastructure to modern software defined distributed systems.

Like the postmodernist movement in the arts and architecture, postmodern IT has the potential to change the way we approach contemporary challenges and opportunities, ranging from the rise of mobile and the Internet of Things to the promise of modern data science. But to deliver on that potential, we need postmodern tools to manage postmodern IT.

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